Alaskan tribe knows how to weave warmth

December 26, 1990|By Deborah Hofmann | Deborah Hofmann,N.Y. Times News Service

NEW YORK — NEW YORK-- The right snuggly accessories can do more than ward off a chill, especially if they're attractive enough to garner warming compliments.

The Alaska Shop, in Manhattan at 31 East 74th Street, specializes in wraps of all kinds of handknit qiviut (pronounced kiv-ee-OOT). The word means downy underwool, in the language of Eskimos, and it comes from domesticated musk oxen raised in Unalakleet, Alaska, by the Musk Ox Producer's Co-operative.

Herders gather the brownish-gray wool every spring, when it works its way to the outer surface of the ox's coat.

Bundles are sent to artisans in 16 isolated tundra coastal villages who clean, comb, spin and knit it into prized garments.

Qiviut is among the rarest and finest of wools, its fibers are long, delicate, smooth and soft. A muffler can easily be slipped through an average-sized wedding band. It is far lighter and softer than cashmere.

"A bulky scarf or hat makes many people claustrophobic; and many types of wool can be hard to tolerate on the delicate skin of the scalp and neck," said Hedy Mann, director of the Alaska Shop which is also a gallery of Alaskan handicrafts.

"People who can't tolerate wool find that this floats around their necks," Ms. Mann said.

Long scarfs at the shop are $175; a large stole, $220. Infant hats are $65, belted sleeveless tunics are $625 and look luxurious over a turtleneck sweater, under a suit or an overcoat.

At Stella Dallas, 218 Thompson Street (Bleecker Street), men's vintage mufflers from the 1920's through 40s are selling well.

An ivory silk muffler in ivory is $45.

For women, dressy silk or rayon gloves from the same era are $9 to $12; opera-length ones are $20. Velvet or vintage beaver muffs ($45) are big with the ice-skating crowd.

The same trends are reported at Alice Underground, where muffs of Persian lamb from the 1920s through 40s are plentiful, from $20 to $45, or in mink for $65 and $75.

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